Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, which won the Booker prize in 2019, is a series of vignettes about 12 women, mostly black lesbians in London, whose lives intersect. There is no punctuation and in parts the writing resembles free verse rather than prose. Neither the style nor the subject would normally have appealed to me, but having been given this book as a gift I felt obliged to read it, and was surprised how much I enjoyed it.
Kate Elizabeth Russell’s semi-autobiographical novel My Dark Vanessa has attracted much controversy, with one reviewer calling it tragic, repulsive and infuriating. As a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Maine, the narrator willingly entered into a sexual relationship with her 40-something English teacher. Their affair continues to impact her life many years later, especially in the light of the MeToo movement. It would be far too simplistic to describe this psychologically complex situation in terms of victimhood, abuse or even rape. A challenging but absorbing read.
Turning from books about the intricacy of sex and gender issues in today’s world to a refreshingly straightforward memoir of wartime service. A Spitfire Girl by Mary Ellis describes the work of the ferry pilots in the Air Transport Auxiliary, who transferred aircraft between RAF bases in World War Two. This remarkable woman flew over a thousand planes of 76 different types, ranging from Spitfire fighters to Wellington bombers. After the war she continued a long career in aviation, and died in 2018 at the age of 101.
I was feeling guilty about never having read Middlemarch by George Eliot, published in 1871 and widely considered the best English novel of all time, so I bought myself a copy for Christmas. I can see it is a monumental achievement, but with so many long descriptive paragraphs I am finding it hard going and have given up my intention of reading one chapter per day. I think this shows how much writing styles have changed over the years, also how my own attention span has got shorter presumably due to continual use of electronic devices.
I’ve been reading some lighter modern novels as well and will mention just a few. Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan is an elegantly written, quietly disturbing short book set in the 1980s in a rural Irish community dominated by the Church. The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex, inspired by a real event, is about the disappearance of three men from a lighthouse off the Cornish coast in the 1970s, and how the unsolved mystery continues to affect their wives many years later. Lastly, being a fan of psychological crime stories set in Oxford, I am enjoying Ruth Ware’s The IT Girl . A man serving a sentence for the murder of a college student ten years earlier has died in prison – but was he guilty after all?